SA Uni goes live with massive wireless network

In what may be the largest of its type in Australia, the University of South Australia will begin using its new 802.11g-based wireless network this week, less than one month after the IEEE officially ratified the standard.

The university's director of information strategy and technology services, Paul Sherlock said the decision to implement a wireless network was inspired by the need to give students and staff more flexible access to the university's online environment.

"The university has good IT governance processes and a well developed project methodology, and we don't invest in information technology for the sake of it," Sherlock said. "By implementing a wireless network across the entire City West campus, we will be allowing students access to the Internet, intranet, and their course material. Also, we expect to see staff using the network for both teaching and administrative purposes."

Located at the north west corner of Adelaide's CBD, the City West campus has eight mid-rise buildings across an area of some 30,000 square metres.

"This wireless network is almost certainly Australia's largest 802.11g implementation," Sherlock said. "As far as potential users go, there are about 7000 students enrolled at the City West campus and there are 451 staff. I would estimate the current number of potential users at 10 per cent, or around 750."

According to Sherlock, between 35 and 40 802.11g base stations have already been installed throughout the campus with the aim of providing "full saturation".

"Rather than a 'hot spot' approach to Wi-Fi coverage we went for a blanket approach," he said. "That way staff and students can get access to the network from almost anywhere on campus. We have even provided coverage at a coffee shop adjacent to the campus."

When considering which equipment to use for the network, the project's steering group looked at a number of issues including security, ease of use and support issues.

"Naturally, security was an issue, but we were also clear that we needed a solution that would not unduly affect the take up of the technology," Sherlock said. "We settled on a VPN approach rather than base station encryption to provide a good level of security and privacy while making it still relatively easy for students and staff to access the network."

Sherlock said Netgear base stations were chosen for a number of reasons.

"Netgear 802.11g base stations are backwardly compatible with 802.11b and also allow control of the 802.11g transfer rate," he said. "With our VPN implementation Netgear was selected by the project team as the best cost-versus-functionality option."

With the infrastructure now in place, some of the university's students are assisting Sherlock's staff to "fine-tune" the coverage so it will be ready for full service this week.

"The amount of coverage varies depending on the location of the access points," Sherlock said. "We have installed additional directional antennas in some spots to get more coverage. "

Sherlock said the less-than-$100,000 network was completed on time and under budget.

"We have a contingency for additional base stations and antenna if required," he said.

"We see wireless as providing increased flexibility to our wired network. It will be some years before wireless becomes a true replacement for the wired network."

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